The Trial of the Chicago 7

When you pick a real-life incident that happened over the course of time to make a movie, which phase in that incident you chose somewhat of determines the nature of the movie. And if you sort of deviate from the easily predictable angle of storytelling, it becomes interesting for the viewer and challenging for the maker. The new Aaron Sorkin film, The Trial of the Chicago 7 offered me such an experience. It chooses the format of a courtroom drama to tell a story about a historical protest that ironically feels extremely relevant in the present scenario.

In 1968, The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. It was the time when America was sending troops to Vietnam for the ongoing war. Various anti-war groups decided to hold a rally during the convention to grab the eyeballs. The authorities obviously didn’t give them permission, but the groups had no plans to back off. Eventually, the tense situation ended up in a riot, and the movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 shows us the trial of the seven people who lead those thousands in that protest.

A rift between thousands of protesters and police happening in the late ‘60s is indeed an idea that can easily tease a filmmaker to go after the largeness of the whole thing. Even though we are getting to see the protest in bits and pieces, the soul of the movie here is the trial. It’s like the movie Sully. A plane landing on the Hudson is shown in the movie, but what we get to see in the movie is the hearing through which Sully and his copilot go through. Sorkin focuses primarily on biased justice that happened during that time. I went through a mini-research of my own about the Chicago 7 and if you look at the whole picture, this is like an important chapter in that whole incident. A lot of things have happened prior to the trial and a lot of things had happened after the trial, but Sorkin uses the drama in this legal battle to convey the political reality of those days.

Sacha Baran Cohen’s inherent style suits the character of the irreverent Abbie Hoffman. And he sort of minimalizes the eccentricity which makes Hoffman look pretty realistic on camera. Jeremy Strong as Hoffman’s partner Jerry Rubin also portrays the character with his set of quirks. Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden gets to be a part of some of the top-notch sequences in the movie and he depicted the clarity and dilemma of that character convincingly. Somewhere I felt Haydon was carrying the emotional arch of the whole story.

Frank Langella as the infamous judge Julius Hoffman showed the bias of the racist judge without making that character a caricature. Mark Rylance as the lawyer of the 7 William Kunstler delivers an aggressive-looking performance and the synergy of the cast really made a difference.  Joseph Gordon Levitt gets to do the role of Richard Schultz here and we have Michael Keaton playing Ramsey Clark and Yahya Abdul Mateen II playing Bobby Seale, two brief yet impactful characters in the story.

Aaron Sorkin’s treatment of the story is really aggressive. There is a sense of urgency in the whole narrative. Because he has staged the whole movie as a courtroom drama, the main event, and the chaos around that are shown here as flashbacks. And thus what could have looked like a dull argument between the characters, manages to get the energy one could see in the riot visuals, courtesy of the precise crosscuts by Alan Baumgarten. Sorkin also manages to create some dramatic moments on screen without being overly cinematic about it. The visuals capture the tension and power dynamics in the scenes very effectively and the production design also made sure that we were transported to the late ‘60s.

In his Instagram post urging everyone to watch The Trial of the Chicago 7, the third point Joseph Gordon Levitt says is that the movie is about a moment in 1968, but it feels like it’s about today. When you see that emotionally overwhelming climax moment in the movie as they reveal what happened to the case in the future, the movie starts to gain a contemporary relevance, it somewhere adds a sense of hope and it also gives you a feeling that you have watched something cinematically gripping rather than mere documentation of a real-life event.

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Final Thoughts

It chooses the format of a courtroom drama to tell a story about a historical protest that ironically feels extremely relevant in the present scenario.


Green: Recommended Content

Orange: The In-Between Ones

Red: Not Recommended


By Aswin Bharadwaj

Founder and editor of Lensmen Reviews.